Stubborn Gladness


During the time when I was struggling with my infertility, I also had to come to terms with the fact that even if we adopted, this would be my only child. I remember feeling unleashed with anxious nagging thoughts like, “Doesn’t he need a sibling to play with?” “Will he feel lonely?” “What will happen when I die and he has to face the burden of caring for me alone?” I know that these thoughts are based entirely on my own fears and assumptions of what I expected my family would look like. Even though, I can’t seem to shake my periodic pangs of regret.

I think family planning can be a life changing decision. I envy the parents who have the luxury to decide how many children will be in their family. In my case, life’s circumstances chose for me. Maybe I’m still struggling with the loss that I will have only one child. Isn’t that enough? Why don’t I feel more grateful? Shouldn’t I feel overwhelmed with joy that at least I get to be a parent?

One of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, introduced me to the concept of holding on to the “stubborn gladness.” The idea was born from her favorite poem A Brief for the Defense written by Jack Gilbert. In one part of the poem he beautifully writes:

We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight.

Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our

gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.

I love how this poem compels me to find a quiet space in the center of my disappointment and loss and to take hold of the wonder and the joy-the “stubborn gladness.”


Maritime Livin’

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We recently returned from an exciting and adventurous ten day vacation where we ate and drank our way through the Washington coast. The trip was a lovely balance of visiting with friends, hiking in national parks, and experiencing the maritime culture. Many times throughout the trip, I was constantly reminded how this is most likely our last kid free vacation before we meet our son.

My first reminder was when we arrived at the airport. I witnessed a mom who had to WWE wrestle her screaming daughter to free her panda backpack in order to get through the security line. Another time is when I breathlessly hiked up a hill in the Olympic National Park thinking, “There’s no way a toddler could possibly do this. As an adult, I can barely manage.” I look up and of course there’s a mom who walks past me with her top heavy backpack filled with camping gear with her toddler strapped in the Ergobaby carrier and I think to myself, “Yes, it is possible. But how is that any fun?” Or the time at dinner when I realized while devouring my delicious hamachi crudo and casually sipping my Oregon chardonnay that I need to enjoy this because these days are dangerously numbered.

I am certain that it is completely unrealistic and maybe even a bit naive to consider vacation travel with a toddler. How does it feel to be a parent on a three hour flight with a screaming active two year old? I don’t envy you. There’s the constant negotiation of snacks, the thrown toys, and any novel distraction you can imagine just to get you through the flight. Then when you finally arrive, how much beach time can you actually enjoy around nap time, sand throwing, and cooking dinner? How is this possibly a vacation?

I imagine that once I have a family, the vacationing will look dramatically different from our latest trip. There will be no more sleeping in at the dreamy Airbnb, the late night maritime debauchery with college friends will be limited, and a simple event like packing to go to the beach may turn into an epic production. However, I’m ready to trade all this in because I know that once I walk through the arrival gate with my son in tow, there’s a delightful and bittersweet, a magical and familiar, a lifetime of adventures that awaits us.

Gains and Losses

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When we initially started the adoption process, my assumption was that we would adopt an infant close to the age of six months similar in age as when I was adopted. I clearly recall the adoption meeting when the presenter confidently explained, “Most children will be the ages of two and a half by the time the adoption is finalized.” I turned to my husband and barely managed to stutter, “But wait. Isn’t that a todd-ddd-ler?!”

Although I’m completely humbled and beyond grateful to become a parent, I can’t help but fantasize about the missed baby moments. I wonder what he sounds like when he cries. How does he prefer to be comforted? What was his wobbly first steps like? Now he’s beginning the toddler stage where he’s walking, saying omma (mommy) and becoming more independent. It’s been incredibly difficult not to be there to share in these huge moments of his young life. As I patiently wait to meet my son, I realize adoption is an inevitable and complex series of gains and losses.

This week my son celebrated his first birthday (called Dol) which is a significant milestone in Korea. The children wear a traditional Hanbok and a hat. The highlight of the celebration is where the child is placed in front of a table with objects. It is believed that whatever object is chosen, this will signify his future occupation. Then there’s the usual eating and celebrating. Although I enjoyed looking at the wonderful pictures, I still felt an overwhelming sadness because I wasn’t able to be there to share in his excitement and happiness.

My son will also experience loss. Even though he will gain a family who loves and adores him, he will lose his connection to his birth mother, his Korean culture, and race through adoption. He will wonder why his birth mother gave him up for adoption, question his identity, and more than likely internalize a number of different emotions that comes with grief and loss.

Maybe life is a continuous ebb and flow of gains and losses. It’s easy to be present when there are joyful and happy moments. But it’s when the losses are big and chaotic and the spaces feel too loud is when I want to run. I don’t know the losses that my son will experience, but what is certain is that I will be present for it all.

Korean-ness noun. the quality or state of being Korean


“Where are you from?” “Minnesota.” “No, where are you really from?” “Do you speak Korean?” “No.” “Have you ever met your birth mother?” It seems like everyone from friends, coworkers, and even strangers are intimately curious about my Korean-ness. There have been numerous interactions throughout my life which highlight that yes, in fact, I am Korean. One particular incident I can distinctly remember well. I was five years old attending an open house school event with my parents and brothers. As we walked from classroom to classroom, a teacher saw me and was convinced that I was lost, while the entire time I was standing next to my brothers. I remember feeling confused and not being able to explain what happened. I just knew that I was different. Then, right at the moment when you start to forget that you are Korean, you are abruptly reminded like the time a complete stranger approached me and started to speak to me in Korean. After a few seconds of giving him a look of total bewilderment, he realized that I had no idea what he was saying. Which is more awkward? An absolute stranger speaking to me in Korean. Or a white person who fluently speaks Korean.

Maybe I’m a late bloomer in discovering my Korean-ness because it wasn’t until my twenties when I first began to explore my Korean identity. I felt this relentless need to absorb all things Korean. I read every piece of literature written about being Korean American. I binge watched K-dramas (and you think Days of Our Lives is dramatic) and even sought out friendships with international Korean students because somehow I felt they were more Korean than my Korean adopted peers.

Twenty years later and I’m still exploring my Korean-ness, but with a different purpose. Now my intention is to provide my son with a home where he can see his culture represented. I’m curiously experimenting with cooking Korean foods (you had me at banchans), slowly learning how to speak the Korean language, and carefully researching bilingual books in preparation for our adoption. There are moments though, when I wonder am I Korean enough? One day will my son wake up and say, “Okay, mom, the jig is up.” Whenever these irrational thoughts begin to consume me, I find comfort in the insightful words from the beautiful poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. She says, “In the margins, fertile things happen. When things are fixed, things can’t grow. But in margins, things grow.”


CTFD and Other Parenting Advice


Is it possible to suffer from parenting guidebook reading fatigue? If so, I think I’ve hit the mark. The other day, just out of curiosity, I typed “parenting” at Amazon, and my search returned 193,691 books. It’s no wonder why I’m feeling fatigued and rightfully anxious about what I should be reading. It seems like everyone has authored a parenting book from doctors to teachers to celebrities. Even tough love, moral authority ‘Papa Bear’ Bill O’Reilly has written a parenting book, The O’Reilly Factor for Kids: A Survival Guide for America’s Families. But what does one author say about parenting that is any different from the other thousands of parenting book authors? This is perplexing.

To understand this better, I spent some time perusing the titles of some of Amazon’s parenting best sellers. Here are just a few: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, and my personal favorite, David Vienna’s 2013 international bestseller, Calm the F**ck Down. The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need. Based on these titles alone, as an outsider, it seems to be that parenting involves a considerable amount of talking and screaming. Is parenting a continuum of emergency crises where everyone is barely maintaining survival?

Lately, I’ve been collecting anecdotal parenting research from my friends and family. And just like the enormous swath of parenting guidebooks, there’s also a diverse range of advice about how to parent. Some suggest the more ambiguous like: “You’ll figure it out as you go.” “There’s really no right or wrong way to do it” (I guess it’s not like learning how to tie your shoes). “What works for me, may not work for you.” To the more definitive advice like: “You definitely need baby wipes in the car 24/7.” “Don’t get into a snacking war with a toddler in public because it will be complete hell.”  “A car seat? We don’t really use one now that he’s a toddler.” Wait. What?!

Moments later, after becoming completely unhinged and remembering to calm myself down by doing yoga breathing, I started to wonder if parenting isn’t really any different from any other relationship. Is it as simple as children want to feel loved, respected, and supported? At the end of the day maybe all parents have the similar desire which is to raise happy, healthy autonomous children and according to one friend who confidently said, “But what’s singularly different is how you get there.”

In the meantime, I’m quietly continuing to read in order to prepare myself for parenting. And on those especially challenging days; maybe the only parenting advice I need is from David Vienna who simply says, “You need to CTFD (calm the f**ck down).”

Here are a few seminal parenting/adoption books that have resonated with me:

  1. The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis & David Cross
  2. The Whole- Brain Child by Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
  3. Adopting After Infertility by Patricia Irwin Johnston

What are your book recommendations?  Please share.

Patience Is a Virtue (sometimes)

“Good things come to those who wait,” “Slow and steady wins the race, “Haste makes waste,”“A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.” We can all quote by memory these annoying platitudes about patience (okay, maybe not that last one). When I was younger, I sang regularly in my church choir where we did a number of performances. However, one performance has vividly stuck with me even thirty years later. I can still recall and sing the lyrics to one song sung by Herbert the singing snail: Have patience//have patience//don’t be in such a hurry// when you get impatient you only start to worry//Remember, remember, that God is patient, too//and think of all the the times when others have to wait for you//

I don’t think that I’m a particularly patient person. I’ve been known to walk quickly in front of the elderly and children in strollers in order to get to the door before them. I have a horribly low tolerance for drivers. If a driver doesn’t go within two seconds of the traffic light turning green, they will definitely get a honk.  And on more than one occasion, I’ve said to my middle school students, “I can’t talk to you right now,” and quickly walked away. It seems like since the womb we’ve been instructed by our parents, teachers, and everyone around us that patience is an expected behavior. You often hear parents say, “Wait your turn, wait until we eat, wait until you are spoken to.” But what happens when you don’t want to wait? When patience is a virtue only sometimes.

Most recently, my patience has been exceedingly tested with our journey to become parents. My husband and I have been waiting to be parents since 2012. We knew that we wanted to have children and immediately started planning our family right after we were married. After four years of trying to get pregnant by completing fertility testing, two failed attempts of IUI and countless fertility acupuncture appointments; we made the decision to adopt. We are a year into the adoption process and now again we are waiting, but this time we are waiting to meet our toddler Korean son. We don’t have any other choice but to wait. But patiently wait? I’m not so sure. What does that look like anyway? Is patience lying in bed with tears welling up in your eyes quietly counting off the days and months until you finally get to meet him for the first time. Or maybe it’s giving yourself permission to walk through the toddler clothing section and letting the fabric run through your hands while imagining his tiny body in the I heart Minneapolis t-shirt. And even, maybe, patience is like the day when you silently surrender to the idea of writing a blog in order to keep your mind occupied and your heart from going wildly insane.

Do good things come to those who wait? Maybe. But I can say with certainty that within the next year, I’ll more than likely be repeating these same words to my two year old: “Please wait your turn, or wait until we eat.” And then if I’m lucky enough and if I’m listening closely; he’ll be the one teaching me how to be patient just like Herbert the singing snail.